Campaign Talk: Why Elections Are Good for Us

Roderick P. Hart, Author
Roderick P. Hart, Author Princeton University Press $47.5 (328p) ISBN 978-0-691-00126-5
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
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Some observers today consider electoral politics a cesspool of money and negativity, but political scientist Hart maintains that there is ""ample reason for reconsidering, perhaps even celebrating, political campaigns."" This upbeat assessment is founded on a careful look at language. By breaking campaigns down into three ""voices""--press, people and politicians--and analyzing each element through a specialized computer program, patterns in word choices are revealed that say a lot about what candidates offer and what people desire. Hart discovers, for example, that in the acceptance speeches delivered by Bob Dole and Bill Clinton at their respective party conventions, Dole referred to people only nine times and repeatedly used the language of the Washington insider, whereas Clinton referred to people 21 times and used the words neighborhoods, fellow, children, home and parents. The seeds of the Dole campaign's fate are apparent to Hart: why did he ""stress soldier, violent, and forces during a placid time, or... man when his party faced a yawning gender gap?"" Similar analyses of media reports and letters to the editor fill in data for what Hart considers the voices of the press and the people. Hart recognizes that the conversations represented by political campaigns are ""often superficial and occasionally degrading,"" but he remains optimistic, insisting that campaigns produce engagement--at least sometimes--and that generally they have ""served the nation well."" Readers may not be ready to embrace electoral politics as a national treasure, but Hart's suggestion that at least something positive can be gleaned from the campaign trail is reassuring. (Mar.)
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